On April 12, 1945, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died after four memorable terms, leaving Vice President Harry S. Truman at the head of a country still at war with World War II and in possession of a weapon with a unprecedented and terrifying power.
On a clear spring day in his retreat from Warm Springs, Ga., Roosevelt sat in the living room with Lucy Mercer (with whom he had resumed an extramarital affair), two cousins and his dog Fala, while the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff painted her portrait. According to presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, it was around 1 p.m. when the president suddenly complained of a terrible pain in the back of my head and passed out.
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One of the women summoned a doctor, who immediately recognized the symptoms of a massive brain hemorrhage and gave the president an injection of adrenaline into the heart in a futile attempt to revive it. Mercer and Shoumatoff quickly left the house, expecting FDR’s family to arrive as soon as the word got out. Another doctor called First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington, DC, informing her that FDR had passed out. She told the doctor that she would be traveling to Georgia that evening after a scheduled speech. By 3:30 p.m., however, doctors in Warm Springs had declared the president dead.
Eleanor gave her speech this afternoon and was listening to a piano performance when she was summoned to the White House. In her memoirs, she recalled that this drive to the White House was scary, because she knew in her heart that her husband was dead. Once in his living room, assistants informed him of the president’s death. The couple’s daughter, Anna, arrived and the women donned black dresses. Eleanor then called their four sons, who were all on active military service. At 5:30 p.m., she greeted Vice President Truman, who had yet to be briefed on the news. A quiet, silent Eleanor said, “Harry, the president is dead.” He asked if he could do anything for her, to which she replied, “Is there anything we can do to you? Because you’re the one who’s in trouble now.
Indeed, Truman had quite large shoes to fill. FDR had presided over the Great Depression and most of World War II, leaving an indelible imprint on American politics for several decades. He also left Truman with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue to develop and ultimately use the atomic bomb. Shockingly, FDR had kept his vice president in the dark about the development of the bomb, and it wasn’t until Roosevelt’s death that Truman learned of the Manhattan Project.
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Eleanor embarked on the funeral preparations for FDR. Thousands of Americans lined up the tracks to say goodbye to Roosevelt as a slow train carried his casket from Warm Springs to Washington, DC After a solemn funeral, he was buried at his family’s home in Hyde Park, New York .